Race. National origin. Ethnicity. Skin color. Black Lives.
Religion. Women. LGBTQIA. Disabled. These are not “fighting words,”
but sometimes just uttering these words—and others—can cause uneasiness.
I hear from many people that we should have conversations on these
issues. But why are we uncomfortable when conversations touch on these
words? Feeling uncomfortable, it’s easy to leave the conversation or not
become engaged, or fully engaged, in the dialogue. We then fail to achieve
more clarity on these issues. Perceptions, including those based on a
dearth of facts, persist.
For the past 10 years, our Bar Leadership Institute participants have
been taught by Kami Hoskins to agree on rules of engagement when they
discuss issues. Those rules can vary
from group to group, but the objective is to agree on how ideas, opinions, and, yes, feelings, can be articulated to the group without fear that
someone will yell, call you names, or
roll their eyes—all with the goal of
advancing respectful dialogue, even if
you ultimately may still disagree.
Like many, for me that dialogue
has proceeded in fits and starts.
Almost two decades ago, a Saturday dinner at my house included
friends and their spouses. There were
no particular rules of engagement,
just fun conversation. Then, a spouse
I didn’t know told a very distasteful
story. I was offended, as was his wife
and everyone else at the table.
I could see the hurt on the faces of my guests who were of the same
race as the group that was just mocked. My mind raced. Should I call out
the man and berate him? Try to restore levity? Try to explain why it was
offensive? I couldn’t decide. In an uncomfortable spot, I … changed the
That was wrong. On Monday morning, I tried to apologize to a woman
who was in the group the man mocked. But she refused to
accept my apology.
I then spoke with the woman whose husband made the comments. She apologized to me—and asked if we could move on.
Decades later, the issue and the evening for me are unresolved because the people involved did not want to engage in
discussion. I understand the hurt and my role in it.
About six years ago, I met the spouse of a law school friend
during our reunion. As an Asian Indian with dark skin, she told
me she thought she understood the issue of race and skin color.
But she expressed how that changed after her marriage to my
friend, a black man. She described behaviors and comments
directed at her husband that appalled her, things she did not
experience as a dark-skinned but non-black woman. She told
me that viewing race while standing next to her husband was
difficult and painful. Our conversation per-
colates every now and then in my head.
I recall all those conversations, and others, moving ones, with black women, who
told me about additional lessons their parents had to convey to them while growing
up. We all teach our children to respect others and follow the law, but these women told
me how those lessons were taught differently
in their homes, because their experiences
required otherwise. We may share the universal objective to return home safely, but
decades and centuries
of experience have layered in distrust by
many black people,
something others may
not need to worry
about. That’s another
portion of the conversation that needs to be
shared, and one reason
why Black Lives Matter is different from All
In 2014, the Arizona Black Bar invited
attorney Connie Rice
to speak about race
and her work with
the Los Angeles Police
However we describe the lives that matter in this country, we need to talk about the
rules of engagement that permit us to talk
respectfully to each other about race. We
must be willing to talk about how a complex
American history and an equally complex
present mean we have very different experiences with our institutions of policing and
justice. Better conversations and collaboration on setting those rules of engagement
will help us reach better outcomes.
What doesn’t work is simply changing the
by Lisa Loo PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
We need to talk about
On Race, Tough Talking, Harder Hearing
the rules of engagement
that permit us to talk
respectfully to each
other about race.